TOKYO – Japan’s space probe Hayabusa2 made on Thursday its second successful landing on an asteroid located 244 million kilometers from Earth, collecting underground samples that could provide information on the origin of the solar system.
This is one of the most important missions of the spacecraft, which is scheduled to return to Earth next year with the samples gathered from the Ryugu asteroid, which is around 900 meters (2,952 feet) in diameter with a slightly cubical shape and is considered among the oldest bodies in the solar system.
At a press conference, Hayabusa2’s project manager Yuichi Tsuda said that the probe was able to collect underground and surface materials for the first time despite the difficulty of having limited space of a couple of meters of margin.
An excited Tsuda added that the sample materials collected could even help in knowing the origin of life in the solar system.
Hayabusa2 has traveled around 4 billion kilometers around the Sun in an elliptical orbit since its launch in December 2014. The probe made its first landing in February to collect samples from Ryugu’s surface.
The probe made a brief touchdown on the asteroid around 0120 GMT, according to information received at the mission control center, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said.
The maneuver was aimed at retrieving underground samples from an artificial crater on the surface of the asteroid created in April by a projectile made of the metal tantalum fired by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.
According to JAXA, the underground materials have not been affected by space radiation and other factors, which could provide additional information to earlier samples taken from the surface.
Thursday’s maneuver was especially complicated as the probe had to focus on the open crater, which has a diameter of 7 meters (23 feet).
Once the samples were gathered during the brief landing on Ryugu, the spacecraft took off again to remain in position near the asteroid.